Lendvai’s tautly argued, baleful account of the career of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will correct anyone who once harbored the illusion that eastern European countries—free of Soviet control and comfortably ensconced in the EU and NATO—would move rapidly toward liberal democracy. Thanks in no small part to Orban, Hungary’s trajectory since the fall of communism bears far more resemblance to that of Russia under President Vladimir Putin than to, say, Spain’s after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco. The parallels between Orban and Putin go beyond a shared authoritarian streak. Orban’s calculated shift from democrat to nationalist and from liberal dissident to the guardian of Hungary’s most conservative values mirrors Putin’s evolution from reformer to hard-liner. True, Orban’s three political near-death experiences, including two consecutive electoral defeats, set him apart from Putin. But Orban’s political skill, tenacity, and lack of scruples make him a remarkably similar politician.
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